O'Donovan brothers out to defend European crown

Crowds expected to turn out for European champions Gary and Paul O’Donovan in Czech Republic

Ireland’s Gary and Paul  O’Donovan had an excellent 2016. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland’s Gary and Paul O’Donovan had an excellent 2016. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

It is rare for Irish fans to be able to back a team defending a European title. But this weekend they get that chance.

Gary O’Donovan and Paul O’Donovan had a stellar 2016 that peaked with an Olympic silver medal in the lightweight double sculls at Rio de Janeiro. Paul would go on to win gold at world level in the lightweight single, but the O’Donovans struck gold first in the European Championships in Germany in May.

Defending that title in the next three days in Racice in the Czech Republic will be a tall order. Two other crews have big claims to be favourites for gold: Olympic champions Jeremie Azou and Pierre Houin start their season here; Peter Chambers and Will Fletcher of Britain kick-started theirs by taking gold in the first World Cup in Belgrade, a regatta where the O’Donovans finished fourth.

And what of the Ireland crew’s form? “They’re not in the same place as they were last year,” said Dominic Casey. The RTÉ television viewers who – at long last – can watch their favourites live will see fierce competitors, but a crew only approaching its peak.

Only two other Ireland crews will take to the water. Single sculler Sanita Puspure – a European bronze medallist in 2016 – was entered but pulled out on Thursday before the draw because of illness.

The draw is seeded, so the O’Donovans do not have to take on France or Britain in their heat (10.30am Irish time, Friday). They will avoid a repechage and go directly to the semi-finals if they win.

The Ireland squad is not a one-team show. The lightweight pair of Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan come here having won gold in Belgrade and will be determined to keep their run going; lightweight single sculler Denise Walsh took silver and will also be targeting a podium finish. Walsh’s heat is at 9.50am and the pair’s race for lanes at 12.15pm. They will go directly to the final as there are just six entries.

Top crews

Susan Dunlea is managing the team in Racice, now that Morten Espersen has resigned. Espersen’s general plan for the season stays in operation. It is understood that the new HPD, whose contract is being finalised, will take over in August.

Metropolitan Regatta, the middle of three Grand League events, will see some of the top domestic crews compete at Blessington on Saturday. The winds may pick up in the afternoon, but the organisers hope it will not force a suspension of rowing. The senior men’s eights from Commercial, UCD and Trinity are all entered and their clash should be a highlight.

In the women’s single sculls, it will be interesting to see how Neptune’s Claire Feerick, who has been impressive so far this season, fares against Monika Dukarska of Killorglin.

Commercial seem certain to be the top women’s eight. They have two crews entered, their junior and senior eights. The St Michael’s junior 18 eight are their sole opponents. The women’s entry is small – except at junior level, which is thriving.

The women’s senior eights for the Irish Championships in July looks promising: Sinéad Lynch (who will be on the panel in the RTÉ European Championships coverage this weekend) will be part of a St Michael’s eight, and Claire Lambe may compete for UCD.

Belfast Sprint Regatta is also set for Saturday, while some of the best young Irish talent will compete in the British National Schools’ Regatta on Dorney Lake. Enniskillen RGS have real hopes in the eights, while Hannah Scott of Bann is also set to compete.

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